DJ Mustard, the Hottest Hip-Hopper in Town
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this gets into your bloodstream and stays there.
By Andreas Hale
It couldn’t have started more innocently. An uncle DJ-ing at a house party in Los Angeles forgets something at home and asks his cousin to fill in. Just keep the records spinning, he says.
Only the cousin is 11 years old, and this boy has something else is in mind. Concocting his own formula, he generates a sound that partygoers can’t help but notice. Listening as much as dancing, they can tell: The kid knows his way around a turntable. It runs in his blood.
Within the hour, his mom is fielding calls from partygoers praising his ability to effortlessly spin current hits with classic records by the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire.
In 10 years, I see myself like Dr. Dre: a billionaire.
— Dijon McFarlane
A dozen years later, Dijon McFarlane — aka DJ Mustard — is still DJ-ing and producing music, only now it is for a much larger audience, and with a much larger impact. At 24, this heavyset slow-talker has become the producer of the moment on the West Coast, the man behind hit records from YG (My N*gga), Tyga (Rack City), Drake (The Motto), Jeezy (R.I.P.) and a litany of others. He DJs at sold-out shows in Las Vegas, and closes out major summer festivals in New York.
“In 10 years, I see myself like Dr. Dre: a billionaire,” Mustard says half-seriously as he takes a break from working on his upcoming solo album 10 Summers at the studio inside of The Palms Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. He’s referring, of course, to mega-producer Andre Young, and with Mustard’s own unique up-tempo, club-oriented sound, the comparison to the mega-star producer (who’s not quite a billionaire, but isn’t that far off either) is not all that crazy. As Dr. Dre is credited with the rise of gangsta rap in the 1990s, many say Mustard is creating a resurgence in West Coast hip-hop.
Though he likes to recount his precocious start, getting noticed as a DJ was a long path that consumed his teen years. But as demand for his talents rose, Mustard found himself playing at virtually any and every party and event in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Much to his mother’s chagrin, he recalls, he dropped out of high school only five credits short of graduation. He wanted to DJ, but also to focus on the production side of music.
In both roles, he says he’s been influenced by the likes of Lil Jon and Mannie Fresh, the focus on keeping the party going. His sound, coined “ratchet music” — which can be identified with the phrase “Mustard on the beat, ho” stabbed onto every record — has taken over the charts and breathed life into a once-stagnant West Coast hip-hop community. The man whose moniker is a play on his first name (Dijon, get it?) realized a long time ago that what the people want to hear isn’t necessarily what you like.
“When I first started producing, I was making underground beats that sounded like they could be for Talib Kweli,” he says. The chunky producer is perched on a stool, his sleepy eyes navigating the studio before abruptly halting on a pair of giggling women partying a little too much. “I realized I had to dumb down my sound,” he says, because DJs need to read the crowd. “My underground beats were not what they wanted to hear in the club.”
Mustard grew up in the same Los Angeles area as Paranoid hitmaker Ty Dolla $ign, who made a similar transition from underground neo-soul to popular radio hits. He studied the singer, who plays all of his own instruments, and became infatuated by the creative side of producing. “To me, producing goes hand-in-hand with DJ-ing,” he says. “Understanding what it’s like to be a DJ, I wanted to make music that other DJs could play in the club.”
Mustard got his opportunity to test out his new sound after meeting his future partner in rhyme, Compton rapper YG. After hosting one of the rapper’s early mixtapes, Mustard says he began to spend an inordinate number of hours trying to perfect what would become his signature sound. “When he used to leave his house, I would stay in his studio room and make beats all day.”
YG asked Mustard to send fellow Cali rapper Tyga some of his beats. One of those would become his first major placement, he remembers. And you’ve heard the result:
“I sent [what would become Rack City] on a Tuesday and it was out on the music blogs that Thursday,” Mustard says, still blown away at how quickly things happened. “It blew up out of nowhere.”
It’s a Memorial Day afternoon in Las Vegas, and in less than 12 hours the artist will be DJ-ing the second of YG’s two sold-out Las Vegas shows. A week later, he will be closing out Hot 97’s annual Summer Jam festival in New York as the first West Coast act to headline.
He charges about $30,000 a beat — and he really should be acting like a 24-year-old and having some fun, but Mustard doesn’t believe in taking breaks. Ever. According to Dae Dae, his longtime head of security who could double for as a pro wrestler, 12-hour studio sessions are normal. “He’s always in the studio working.” And he probably will be for a while. Fear can drive a man, and Mustard says he believes wholeheartedly in fleeting fame.
“You don’t want to make $30 million one year and the next year you are broke,” Mustard says when asked why he’s in the studio instead of partying on the Vegas Strip. “The easy part is to get on,” he says. “The hard part is staying on and staying relevant.”
Just look at the name of his album, he says. “I’m trying to be here for at least 10 Summers.”
- Andreas Hale, Andreas Hale has covered everything from sports and music to fashion and politics. He’s a former editor at outlets including BET, AOL and HipHopDX. Today, he writes for a bevy of websites and magazines, including GRAMMY, Medium, Sherdog and The Ring. Follow Andreas Hale on TwitterContact Andreas Hale